Despite four years of a very deep and very real recession, and more than our fair share of doom and gloom, things are looking up for UK plc, with general unemployment down, albeit powered by a massive rise in part-time jobs.
According to the most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, UK unemployment fell by 7,000 to 2.59 million in the quarter ended 31 July 2012, with the jobless rate falling to 8.1 per cent.
However, on the flip side, the number of 16 to 24 year olds looking for work increased by 7,000, equating to 21.6 per cent of the workforce. Excluding those in full-time education, the figure is closer to 20.3 per cent.
But standing strong outside a crumbling euro-zone, the UK is proving to be an attractive investment proposition to firms with big expansion plans.
In the past few days Amazon and Huawei have announced massive growth plans for the UK, creating thousands of jobs between them.
Amazon revealed last week that it is set to create more than 2,000 permanent jobs over the next two years in the UK by opening three fulfilment centres at as-yet-unnamed locations, creating jobs in areas such as HR, IT, facilities management, learning and development and operational management.
The news came fresh after it opened a brand new 450,000 sq ft fulfilment centre in Hemel Hempstead which itself will create 600 permanent jobs and 3,000 temporary Christmas jobs.
Similarly, Chinese giant Huawei unveiled plans to invest about £1.3bn in the UK over the next five years as it looks to fulfil its growth plans.
Already employing 800 people in the UK, it is looking to almost double its workforce to 1,500 by 2017.
Singing the UK’s praises, Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive of Huawei, said: “The UK is one of the most important European markets in which Huawei has invested. Over the past 11 years we have found its government to be transparent, efficient and practical. The UK is an open market, which welcomes overseas investment.”
On a similar note, Cisco recently announced the winner of its Business Innovation Gateway (BIG) Awards, which it is running every year for the next five years to seek out and reward technology innovation. More than 300 hopeful technology start-ups entered the awards when they began last February.
This year’s winner, Snap Fashion, walked off with a cheque for $100,000 (£62,000) and nabbed a prize package worth an extra $75,000 comprising marketing, PR and legal support.
Phil Smith, Cisco UK chief executive, said: “Each of the entries demonstrated impressive entrepreneurial spirit and skill, which is testament to how much undiscovered talent lies in the UK.”
So just what is it about the UK that is proving to be so attractive time and time again?
David Berry, partner at law firm Charles Russell LLP, said it was down to multiple reasons.
“The UK may not have the vibe of Silicon Valley, and Europe certainly lacks the growth of the emerging market. But the UK speaks the right language, is stable, retains economic autonomy within Europe and perhaps most importantly, remains a hotbed of cool innovation.
“The UK has a melting pot of people and what they may sometimes lack in talent there is usually no problem in attracting that talent to come in and join the party.”
Carl West, business group director for IT at analyst GfK, agreed it was down to a number of factors, not least the groundwork carried out by prime minister David Cam-eron and business secretary Vince Cable to position the UK as an attractive investment proposition.
“The UK is pretty important geographically with regards to mainland Europe and the US. It also has a reasonably steady currency and is on the middle ground when compared with the euro or dollar,” West said. “We also have the fastest-growing broadband penetration and internet usage, particularly with 4G rolling out in several locations towards the end of the year.”
West added the fact that a number of larger vendors’ European offices were based in the UK and that there are many large pension funds looking to invest, also make it attractive.
But he said the performance of the general IT market is also an important factor for foreign investors.
“We are all talking about tablets at the moment, but the IT market in general has been pretty resilient bearing in mind we have had four years of recession,” he added. “I would say we are at the forefront of Europe in terms of technology innovation. And the fact that we speak English fits in with the US market.”
However, West said he hopes that the investment will trickle down and spur businesses and consumers to start spending again.
“We need to have more than just investment in assets, land and infrastructure. Consumers and businesses need the confidence and the encouragement to spend more to ensure the economy grows,” he concluded.
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